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Parathyroid Cancer - Overview

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Parathyroid Cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.

About the parathyroid glands

The parathyroid glands are four small glands. They are located near the thyroid gland in the neck or chest, which is also called the upper mediastinum. They are part of the endocrine system. Like all parts of the endocrine system, the parathyroid glands play an important role regulating hormones in the body. These glands make parathyroid hormone (PTH), which regulates the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.

About parathyroid cancer

Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread. A parathyroid tumor usually develops in one of the four parathyroid glands. The most common treatment for parathyroid tumors is surgery. Radiation therapy is only recommended occasionally in the treatment of parathyroid cancer.

A parathyroid tumor, whether it is benign or malignant, can cause significant effects because the amount of calcium in the blood rises, resulting in a serious condition called hypercalcemia. The doctor may need to treat hypercalcemia quickly if the patient is having life-threatening symptoms.

This section covers tumors found in the parathyroid glands. Learn more about tumors that begin in the thyroid gland in a separate section.

The next section in this guide is Statistics and it helps explain how many people are diagnosed with this disease and general survival rates. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Parathyroid Cancer - Statistics

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about how many people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year. You will also learn some general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Parathyroid cancer is quite rare. Most tumors that develop in the parathyroid gland are benign, with parathyroid cancer accounting for less than 100 cases per year in the United States.

The 5-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least 5 years after the cancer is found. Percent means how many out of 100. The 5-year survival rate for people with parathyroid cancer is about 89%, and the 10-year survival rate is 49%.

It is important to remember that statistics on how many people survive this type of cancer are an estimate. The estimate comes from data based on people with this cancer in the United States each year. So, your own risk may be different. Doctors cannot say for sure how long anyone will live with parathyroid cancer. Also, experts measure the survival statistics every 5 years. This means that the estimate may not show the results of better diagnosis or treatment available for less than 5 years. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Sources: American Cancer Society and Lawrence Kim, MD, "Parathyroid Carcinoma," eMedicine, http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/280908-overview - a0199. Updated December 1, 2015.

The next section in this guide is Risk Factors. It explains what factors may increase the chance of developing this disease. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Parathyroid Cancer - Risk Factors

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing this type of tumor. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a tumor. Although risk factors often influence the development of a tumor, most do not directly cause the tumor. Some people with several risk factors never develop a tumor, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

There are no known causes for most parathyroid tumors. However, the following risk factor may increase a person’s chance of developing a parathyroid tumor:

Family history. A history of parathyroid tumors in a family may raise a person’s risk of developing a parathyroid tumor. A hereditary, or inherited, condition known as multiple endocrine neoplasia may raise an individual’s risk for benign parathyroid tumors. For more information, visit the sections describing multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2). No genetic factors have been linked to parathyroid cancer. 

There are no known risk factors for people who do not have a family history of parathyroid tumors.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs and it explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

A person with a parathyroid tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, a person with a parathyroid tumor does not show any of these symptoms. The doctor may discover a problem if a blood test shows an increased level of calcium in the blood, a condition called hypercalcemia. The symptoms listed below may also be caused by a medical condition that is not a tumor.

  • Bone pain

  • Kidney problems, including pain in the upper back and excessive urination

  • Stomach pain

  • History of gastroduodenal ulcers, which are ulcers found in the stomach and/or small intestine

  • Weakness

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Vomiting

  • Depression

  • Fatigue

  • Confusion

  • A lump in the neck

  • Insomnia, which is trouble sleeping

  • Malaise, a general feeling of discomfort or illness

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, please talk with your doctor. You doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If a parathyroid tumor is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis and it explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Diagnosis

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a list of the common tests, procedures, and scans that doctors can use to find out what’s wrong and identify the cause of the problem. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors use many tests to diagnose a tumor and find out if it has spread to another part of the body, called metastasis. Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective. For most types of tumors, a biopsy, the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope, is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of cancer. If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis. Imaging tests may be used to find out whether a cancerous tumor has spread.

This list describes options for diagnosing this type of tumor, and not all tests listed will be used for every person. Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:

  • Age and medical condition

  • Type of tumor suspected

  • Signs and symptoms

  • Previous test results

In addition to a physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose a parathyroid tumor:

  • Blood/urine tests. Many types of blood or urine tests may be done for parathyroid problems. The most common test is a serum calcium test. Elevated serum calcium levels can indicate the presence of a parathyroid tumor or hyperplasia, which are over-active cells, on one or more glands. Another common laboratory test looks for elevated levels of the parathyroid hormone (PTH) and phosphorus levels in the blood. Doctors may suspect parathyroid cancer if these blood tests find a very high level of calcium and/or PTH.

  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan creates a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumors. A CT scan can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. Sometimes, a special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to provide better detail on the image. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a pill to swallow. The three-dimensional CT scan for parathyroid tumor localization is a “timed infusion” of contrast and, when combined with a sestamibi/SPECT scan, is considered the “gold standard” in parathyroid imaging today. See below for more information on a sestamibi/SPECT scan.

  • Sestamibi/SPECT scan. SPECT stands for single proton emission computerized tomography. A sestamibi/SPECT scan is a procedure in which a specific protein, called sestamibi, is mixed with a radioactive material and injected into the patient’s vein. A parathyroid tumor will absorb the material, and the tumor will be visible on an x-ray of the neck. A sestamibi/SPECT scan may be recommended if laboratory tests show an elevated level of PTH, or it may be used to evaluate parathyroid cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body or recurred, meaning it has come back after treatment. See the Stages section for a full description of these stages.

  • Ultrasound. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs. An ultrasound is very useful for locating a tumor in or around the thyroid gland. However, it has limitations if the tumor is located lower in the neck or upper chest.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body. MRI can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. A special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to create a clearer picture. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a pill to swallow.

  • Surgery. Removing the entire tumor during an operation is the most common way to diagnose both benign and cancerous parathyroid tumors. The tumor is then analyzed by a pathologist. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease. Rarely a biopsy may be done separately before surgery. In these cases, the doctor usually performs a fine needle aspiration, which removes a sample of fluid and cells from the tumor with a very thin, hollow needle.

Commonly, test results showing a higher level of PTH or obvious symptoms of hypercalcemia are signs that cancer may be present. Imaging, such as a CT scan, can also show if cancer has developed. In some instances, a biopsy of the neck can be done, if surgery is not recommended by surgeons experiences in treating parathyroid tumors.

After diagnostic tests are done, your doctor will review all of the results with you. If the diagnosis is a parathyroid tumor that is cancerous, these results also help the doctor describe the tumor; this is called staging.

The next section in this guide is Stages, and it explains the system doctors use to describe the extent of the disease. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Stages

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about how doctors describe a cancer’s growth or spread. This is called the stage. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Staging is a way of describing where a cancerous tumor is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Doctors use diagnostic tests to find out the cancer’s stage, so staging may not be complete until all of the tests are finished. Knowing the stage helps the doctor to decide what kind of treatment is best and can help predict a patient’s prognosis, which is the chance of recovery. There are different stage descriptions for different types of cancer. For parathyroid cancer, the cancer is typically described as localized, metastatic, or recurrent.

  • Localized. This means the cancer is only found in the parathyroid gland and has not spread to nearby tissues or organs.

  • Metastatic. The cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the head and neck area or to other parts of the body, such as the lungs. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection. Parathyroid cancer rarely spreads to lymph nodes.

  • Recurrent. Recurrent cancer is cancer that has come back after treatment. If the cancer does return, there will be another round of tests to learn about the extent of the recurrence. These tests and scans are often similar to those done at the time of the original diagnosis.

Source: National Cancer Institute.

Information about the cancer’s stage will help the doctor recommend a specific treatment plan. The next section in this guide is Treatment Options. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Treatment Options

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different ways doctors use to treat people with this type of tumor. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

This section outlines treatments that are the standard of care, which are the best known treatments available for this specific type of tumor. When making treatment plan decisions, patients are also encouraged to consider clinical trials as an option. A clinical trial is a research study to test a new approach to treatment to evaluate whether it is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Clinical trials may test such approaches as a new drug, a new combination of standard treatments, or new doses of current therapies. Your doctors can help you review all treatment options. For more information, see the About Clinical Trials and Latest Research sections.

Treatment overview

In cancer care, different types of doctors often work together to create a patient’s overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. This is called a multidisciplinary team. Cancer care teams also include a variety of other health care professionals, including physician assistants, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, dietitians, and others.

The most common treatment options for a parathyroid tumor are surgery, radiation therapy, and treatment of hypercalcemia. Chemotherapy may also be recommended. Treatment will include efforts to both eliminate the tumor and control the amount of calcium in the patient’s bloodstream.

Descriptions of these common treatment options are listed below. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of the tumor, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. Your care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of your care. Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.

Treating hypercalcemia

As explained in the Overview, a parathyroid tumor can cause a high level of calcium in the blood. Hypercalcemia, which is too much calcium in the blood, can cause serious problems. It may need immediate treatment.

There are a number of medications used to reduce calcium levels in the blood, including bisphosphonates (Aredia, Bonefos, Loron), calcitonin (Calcimar, Cibacalcin, Miacalcin), gallium nitrate (Ganite), plicamycin (Mithramycin), or zoledronic acid (Zometa). Most of these drugs are only used for short periods of time until treatment to remove the tumor can be started.

Surgery

Surgery is the removal of the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue during an operation. Surgery is the main treatment for a parathyroid tumor, whether the tumor is benign or cancerous. A surgical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating a tumor using surgery.

It is difficult to know before surgery whether a parathyroid tumor is benign or malignant. Therefore, the surgeon needs to remove the entire gland and any tissue that looks abnormal. In addition, parathyroid tissue is very likely to implant in the surgical bed, which is the area where tissue was removed during surgery. That’s why it is important for the surgeon to remove the tumor, any abnormal tissue, and a clean margin, which is tissue around the tumor that is disease-free. The doctor may also recommend radiation therapy after surgery to the affected area of the neck. See below for more information on radiation therapy.

Surgery for a benign parathyroid tumor is called a parathyroidectomy. Talk with your surgeon about the role of minimally invasive surgery for a single-gland tumor that doctors strongly believed is benign.

Surgery for parathyroid cancer is more extensive. It includes the complete removal of the parathyroid gland as well as surrounding tissues such as the nearby thyroid gland, adjoining fatty tissues, lymph nodes, and if possible, the surrounding muscles. 

If a surgeon finds the tumor is benign during surgery, it is common to check the patient’s level of PTH in the blood during the operation. If necessary, the surgeon will then re-implant one of the normal parathyroid glands that had been removed earlier in the operation. However, if the tumor is cancerous, re-implantation should not be done to avoid any chance of putting cancer cells back into the body.

Talk with your surgeon before the operation about what to expect, the amount of recovery time, and the possible short- and long-term side effects. Learn more about the basics of cancer surgery.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer is called a radiation oncologist. A radiation therapy regimen, which is your treatment plan, usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a set period of time.

Occasionally, radiation therapy may be recommended after surgery for parathyroid cancer. Radiation therapy may help reduce the risk of parathyroid cancer recurring in the neck, but it is difficult to evaluate whether this treatment is beneficial because this type of cancer is so rare.

Side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, and loose bowel movements. Talk with your doctor about how side effects can be relieved or managed during treatment. Most side effects go away soon after treatment has finished. Learn more about the basics of radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells, usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Chemotherapy is given by a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with medication.

Systemic chemotherapy gets into the bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout the body. Common ways to give chemotherapy include an intravenous (IV) tube placed into a vein using a needle or in a pill or capsule that is swallowed.

A chemotherapy regimen usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a set period of time. A patient may receive one drug at a time or combinations of different drugs at the same time.  

Chemotherapy is rarely effective at treating metastatic or recurrent parathyroid cancer. More clinical trials are needed.

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the individual and the dose used, but they can include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. These side effects usually go away once treatment is finished.

Learn more about the basics of chemotherapy and preparing for treatment. The medications used to treat tumors are continually being evaluated. Talking with your doctor is often the best way to learn about the medications prescribed for you, their purpose, and their potential side effects or interactions with other medications. Learn more about your prescriptions by using searchable drug databases.

Getting care for symptoms and side effects 

Parathyroid cancer and its treatment often cause side effects, such as hypercalcemia, described above. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer, an important part of cancer care is relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care, and it includes supporting the patient with his or her physical, emotional, and social needs.

Palliative care is any treatment that focuses on reducing symptoms, improving quality of life, and supporting patients and their families. Any person, regardless of age or type and stage of cancer, may receive palliative care. It works best when palliative care is started as early as needed in the cancer treatment process. People often receive treatment for the cancer and treatment to ease side effects at the same time. In fact, patients who receive both often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment.

Palliative treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, emotional support, and other therapies. You may also receive palliative treatments similar to those meant to eliminate the cancer, such as chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor about the goals of each treatment in the treatment plan.

Before treatment begins, talk with your health care team about the possible side effects of your specific treatment plan and palliative care options. And during and after treatment, be sure to tell your doctor or another health care team member if you are experiencing a problem so it can be addressed as quickly as possible. Learn more about palliative care.

Metastatic parathyroid cancer

If cancer has spread to another location in the body, it is called metastatic cancer. Patients with this diagnosis are encouraged to talk with doctors who are experienced in treating this stage of cancer, because there can be different opinions about the best treatment plan. Learn more about getting a second opinion before starting treatment, so you are comfortable with the treatment plan chosen. This discussion may include clinical trials.

Your health care team may recommend a treatment plan that includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Palliative care will also be important to help relieve symptoms and side effects.

For many patients, a diagnosis of metastatic cancer can be very stressful and, at times, difficult to bear. Patients and their families are encouraged to talk about the way they are feeling with doctors, nurses, social workers, or other members of the health care team. It may also be helpful to talk with other patients, including through a support group.

Remission and the chance of recurrence

A remission is when cancer cannot be detected in the body and there are no symptoms. This may also be called having “no evidence of disease” or NED. 

A remission may be temporary or permanent. This uncertainty causes many people to worry that the cancer will come back. While many remissions are permanent, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the possibility of the tumor returning. Understanding your risk of recurrence and the treatment options may help you feel more prepared if it does return. Learn more about coping with the fear of recurrence

If the tumor does return after the original treatment, it is called a recurrent tumor. It may come back in the same place, meaning it is a local recurrence, or nearby, which is a regional recurrence. If it comes back in another place, it is a distant recurrence.

The first sign of recurrence after treatment may be high blood calcium levels. Therefore, you may have regular tests for PTH and calcium level changes, as well as ultrasounds of the neck. See the Diagnosis section for descriptions.

If there is a recurrence, the cycle of testing will begin again to learn as much as possible about the tumor. After testing is done, you and your doctor will talk about your treatment options. Often the treatment plan will include the treatments described above, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, but they may be used in a different combination or given at a different pace. Your doctor may also suggest clinical trials that are studying new ways to treat this type of recurrent tumor. Whichever treatment plan you choose, palliative care will be important for relieving symptoms and side effects.

People with recurrent disease often experience emotions such as disbelief or fear. Patients are encouraged to talk with their health care team about these feelings and ask about support services to help them cope. Learn more about dealing with recurrence.

If treatment fails

Recovery from cancer is not always possible. If the cancer cannot be cured or controlled, the disease may be called advanced or terminal.

This diagnosis is stressful, and advanced cancer is difficult to discuss for many people. However, it is important to have open and honest conversations with your doctor and health care team to express your feelings, preferences, and concerns. The health care team is there to help, and many team members have special skills, experience, and knowledge to support patients and their families. Making sure a person is physically comfortable and free from pain is extremely important.

Patients who have advanced cancer and who are expected to live less than 6 months may want to consider a type of palliative care called hospice care. Hospice care is designed to provide the best possible quality of life for people who are near the end of life. You and your family are encouraged to think about where you would be most comfortable: at home, in the hospital, or in a hospice environment. Nursing care and special equipment can make staying at home a workable alternative for many families. Learn more about advanced cancer care planning.

After the death of a loved one, many people need support to help them cope with the loss. Learn more about grief and loss.

The next section in this guide is About Clinical Trials and it offers more information about research studies that are focused on finding better ways to care for people with cancer. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - About Clinical Trials

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn more about clinical trials, which are the main way that new medical approaches are tested to see how well they work. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

What are clinical trials?

Doctors and scientists are always looking for better ways to care for patients with parathyroid cancer. To make scientific advances, doctors create research studies involving volunteers, called clinical trials. In fact, every drug that is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was previously tested in clinical trials.

Many clinical trials are focused on new treatments, evaluating whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. These types of studies evaluate new drugs, different combinations of existing treatments, new approaches to radiation therapy or surgery, and new methods of treatment. Patients who participate in clinical trials are often among the first to receive new treatments before they are widely available. However, there is no guarantee that the new treatment will be safe, effective, or better than a standard treatment.  

There are also clinical trials that study new ways to ease symptoms and side effects during treatment and manage the late effects that may occur after treatment. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials regarding side effects.

Deciding to join a clinical trial

Patients decide to participate in clinical trials for many reasons. For some patients, a clinical trial is the best treatment option available. Because standard treatments are not perfect, patients are often willing to face the added uncertainty of a clinical trial in the hope of a better result. Other patients volunteer for clinical trials because they know that these studies are the only way to make progress in treating parathyroid cancer. Even if they do not benefit directly from the clinical trial, their participation may benefit future patients with parathyroid cancer.

Sometimes people have concerns that, in a clinical trial, they may receive no treatment by being given a placebo or a “sugar pill.” However, placebos are usually combined with standard treatment in most cancer clinical trials. When a placebo is used in a study, it is done with the full knowledge of the participants. Find out more about placebos in cancer clinical trials.

Patient safety and informed consent

To join a clinical trial, patients must participate in a process known as informed consent. During informed consent, the doctor should list all of the patient’s options so that the person understands how the new treatment differs from the standard treatment. The doctor must also list all of the risks of the new treatment, which may or may not be different from the risks of standard treatment. Finally, the doctor must explain what will be required of each patient in order to participate in the clinical trial, including the number of doctor visits, tests, and the schedule of treatment.

Patients who participate in a clinical trial may stop participating at any time for any personal or medical reason. This may include that the new treatment is not working or there are serious side effects. Clinical trials are also closely monitored by experts who watch for any problems with each study. It is important that patients participating in a clinical trial talk with their doctor and researchers about who will be providing their treatment and care during the clinical trial, after the clinical trial ends, and/or if the patient chooses to leave the clinical trial before it ends.

Finding a clinical trial

Research through clinical trials is ongoing for all types of cancer. For specific topics being studied for a parathyroid tumor, learn more in the Latest Research section.

Cancer.Net offers a lot of information about cancer clinical trials in other areas of the website, including a complete section on clinical trials and places to search for clinical trials for a specific type of cancer.

In addition, this website offers free access to a video-based educational program about cancer clinical trials, located outside of this guide.

The next section in this guide is Latest Research and it explains areas of scientific research currently going on for this type of cancer. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Parathyroid Cancer - Latest Research

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of tumor and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors are working to learn more about parathyroid cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

  • Better treatment for hypercalcemia. Researchers are exploring new medications to reduce calcium levels in the blood.

  • Tumor genetics. Researchers are looking at the genes, molecular structure, and other features of parathyroid tumors, to learn more about them.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current parathyroid cancer treatments in order to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

  • Genetics. Research is underway to learn more about why this type of tumor can run in certain families. See the Risk Factors section for more information.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding parathyroid tumor, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Side Effects and it offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Coping with Side Effects

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about steps to take to help cope with physical, social, and emotional side effects. This page includes several links outside of this guide to other sections of this website. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Fear of treatment side effects is common after a diagnosis of a tumor, but it may help to know that preventing and controlling side effects is a major focus of your health care team. This is called palliative care, and it is an important part of the overall treatment plan, regardless of the stage of disease.

There are possible side effects for every cancer treatment, but patients don’t experience the same side effects when given the same treatments for many reasons. That can make it hard to predict exactly how you will feel during treatment. Common side effects from each treatment option for a parathyroid tumor are described in detail within the Treatment Options section. Learn more about the most common side effects of cancer and different treatments, along with ways to prevent or control them. Side effects depend on a variety of factors, including the cancer’s stage, the length and dosage of treatment(s), and your overall health.

Talking with your health care team about side effects

Before treatment begins, talk with your doctor about possible side effects of each type of treatment you will be receiving. Ask which side effects are most likely to happen, when they are likely to occur, and what can be done to prevent or relieve them.

And, ask about the level of caregiving you may need during treatment and recovery, as family members and friends often play an important role in the care of a person with a parathyroid tumor. Learn more about caregiving.

In addition to physical side effects, there may be emotional and social effects as well. Patients and their families are encouraged to share their feelings with a member of their health care team who can help with coping strategies, including concerns about managing the cost of your cancer care

During and after treatment, be sure to tell the health care team about the side effects you experience, even if you feel they are not serious. Sometimes, side effects can last beyond the treatment period, called a long-term side effect. A side effect that occurs months or years after treatment is called a late effect. Treatment of both types of effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more by reading the Follow-up Care section of this guide or talking with your doctor. 

The next section in this guide is Follow-up Care and it explains the importance of check-ups after cancer treatment is finished. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Follow-Up Care

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is completed, and why this follow-up care is important. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Care for people diagnosed with cancer doesn’t end when active treatment has finished. Your health care team will continue to check to make sure the cancer has not returned, manage any side effects, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care.

This plan may include regular physical examinations and/or medical tests to monitor your recovery for the coming months and years. This should include blood tests to watch for high PTH and calcium levels. See the Diagnosis section for a description. Follow-up care should also include imaging scans, such as an ultrasound of the neck, to watch for signs that the cancer has returned. When parathyroid cancer does recur, it typically reappears between 2 and 5 years after the initial surgery, although there is always a risk of recurrence.

Learn more about the importance of follow-up care.

Watching for recurrence

One goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence. Cancer recurs because small areas of cancer cells may remain undetected in the body. Over time, these cells may increase in number until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms. During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence. Your doctor will also ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests as part of regular follow-up care, but testing recommendations depend on several factors including the type and stage of cancer originally diagnosed and the types of treatment given.

Managing long-term and late side effects

Most people expect to experience side effects when receiving treatment. However, it is often surprising to survivors that some side effects may linger beyond the treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. In addition, other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years afterwards. Long-term and late effects can include both physical and emotional changes.

Talk with your doctor about your risk of developing such side effects based on the type of cancer, your individual treatment plan, and your overall health. If you had a treatment known to cause specific late effects, you may also have certain physical examinations, scans, or blood tests to help find and manage them.

Keeping personal health records

You and your doctor should work together to develop a personalized follow-up care plan. Be sure to ask about any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. ASCO offers forms to help create a treatment summary to keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.

This is also a good time to decide who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the general care of their family doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences.

If a doctor who was not directly involved in your cancer care will lead your follow-up care, be sure to share your cancer treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with him or her, as well as all future health care providers. Details about your cancer treatment are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.

The next section in this guide is Survivorship and it describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Survivorship

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

What is survivorship?

The word survivorship means different things to different people. Two common definitions include:

  • Having no signs of cancer after finishing treatment.

  • The process of living with, through, and beyond cancer. According to this definition, cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis and includes people who continue to have treatment over the long term, to either reduce the risk of recurrence or to manage chronic disease.

In some ways, survivorship is one of the most complex aspects of the cancer experience because it is different for every person.

Survivors may experience a mixture of strong feelings, including joy, concern, relief, guilt, and fear. Some people say they appreciate life more after a cancer diagnosis and have gained a greater acceptance of themselves. Others become very anxious about their health and uncertain of how to cope with everyday life.

Survivors may feel some stress when frequent visits to the health care team end following treatment. Often, relationships built with the cancer care team provide a sense of security during treatment, and people miss this source of support. This may be especially true as new worries and challenges surface over time, such as any late effects of treatment, emotional challenges including fear of recurrence, sexuality and fertility concerns, and financial and workplace issues.

Every survivor has individual concerns and challenges. With any challenge, a good first step is being able to recognize your fears and talk about them. Effective coping requires:

  • Understanding the challenge you are facing,

  • Thinking through solutions,

  • Asking for and allowing the support of others, and

  • Feeling comfortable with the course of action you choose.

Many survivors find it helpful to join an in-person support group or an online community of survivors. This allows you to talk with people who have had similar first-hand experiences. Other options for finding support include talking with a friend or member of your health care team, individual counseling, or asking for assistance at the learning resource center of the center where you received treatment.

Changing role of caregivers

Family members and friends may also go through periods of transition. A caregiver plays a very important role in supporting a person diagnosed with cancer, providing physical, emotional, and practical care on a daily or as-needed basis. Many caregivers become focused on providing this support, especially if the treatment period lasts for many months or longer.

However, as treatment is completed, the caregiver's role often changes. Eventually, the need for caregiving related to the cancer diagnosis will become much less or come to an end. Caregivers can learn more about adjusting to life after caregiving in this article.

A new perspective on your health

For many people, survivorship serves as a strong motivator to make positive lifestyle changes. 

People recovering from parathyroid tumor are encouraged to follow established guidelines for good health, such as not smoking, limiting alcohol, eating well, and managing stress. Regular physical activity can help rebuild your strength and energy level. Your health care team can help you create an appropriate exercise plan based upon your needs, physical abilities, and fitness level. Learn more about making healthy lifestyle choices.

In addition, it is important to have recommended medical check-ups and tests (see Follow-up Care) to take care of your health. Cancer rehabilitation may also be recommended, and this could mean any of a wide range of services such as physical therapy, career counseling, pain management, nutritional planning, and/or emotional counseling. The goal of rehabilitation is to help people regain control over many aspects of their lives and remain as independent and productive as possible.

Talk with your doctor to develop a survivorship care plan that is best for your needs.

Looking for More Survivorship Resources?

For more information about cancer survivorship, explore these related items. Please note these links will take you to other sections of Cancer.Net:

  • ASCO Answers Cancer Survivorship Guide: This 44-page booklet (available as a PDF) helps people transition into life after treatment. It includes blank treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms.

  • Cancer.Net Patient Education Video: View a short video led by an ASCO expert that provides information about what comes next after finishing treatment.

  • Survivorship Resources: Cancer.Net offers an entire area of this website with resources to help survivors, including for survivors in different age groups.

The next section offers Questions to Ask the Doctor to help start conversations with your cancer care team. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Questions to Ask the Doctor

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some questions to ask your doctor or other members of your health care team, to help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Talking often with the doctor is important to make informed decisions about your health care. These suggested questions are a starting point to help you learn more about your cancer care and treatment. You are also encouraged to ask additional questions that are important to you. You may want to print this list and bring it to your next appointment, or download Cancer.Net’s free mobile app for an e-list and other interactive tools to manage your care.

Questions to ask after getting a diagnosis

  • Could my parathyroid tumor be cancerous?

  • Can you explain my pathology report, or laboratory test results, to me?

  • Are more tests needed to find out if the tumor is cancerous?

  • Questions to ask about choosing a treatment and managing side effects

  • What are my treatment options?

  • What clinical trials are open to me? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?

  • Which treatment plan do you recommend? Why?

  • What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the tumor, help me feel better, or both?

  • Will I be treated for hypercalcemia? If so, why is this important?

Questions to ask about having surgery

  • How extensive will the surgery be? What can I expect from this type of surgery?

  • Could surgery affect my appearance? Is minimally invasive surgery an option?

  • Is the rapid “parathyroid test” available in the operating room to determine if all abnormal tissue has been removed?

  • Who will be part of my health care team, and what does each member do?

  • What experience has my surgeon had with parathyroid surgery?

  • Who will be coordinating my overall treatment and follow-up care?

  • What are the possible side effects of this treatment, both in the short term and the long term?

  • How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?

  • Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?

  • Could this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children? If so, should I talk with a fertility specialist before treatment begins?

  • If I am worried about managing the costs related to my medical care, who can help me with these concerns?

Questions to ask about planning follow-up care

  • What is the risk of the cancer returning? Are there signs and symptoms I should watch for?

  • What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the cancer treatment I received?

  • What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will I need them?

  • How do I get a treatment summary and survivorship care plan to keep in my personal records?

  • Who will be coordinating my follow-up care?

  • What survivorship support services are available to me? To my family? 

The next section in this guide is Additional Resources, and it offers some more resources on this website beyond this guide that may be helpful to you. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Parathyroid Cancer - Additional Resources

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some helpful links to other areas of Cancer.Net that provide information about cancer care and treatment. This is the final page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Parathyroid Cancer. To go back and review other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Cancer.Net includes many other sections about the medical and emotional aspects of cancer, both for the person diagnosed and their family members and friends. This website is meant to be a resource for you and your loved ones from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond.

Beyond this guide, here are a few links to help you explore other parts of Cancer.Net:

This is the end of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Parathyroid Cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select another section to continue reading this guide.